The International Information Center for Structural Engineers

Thursday, 18 September 2014 10:52cat

San Francisco Puts Earthquake Warning Signs on Buildings

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This warning sign was placed on buildings that had not been seismically retrofitted This warning sign was placed on buildings that had not been seismically retrofitted City of San Francisco

In a controversial move last week, San Francisco placed warning signs on buildings that violate San Francisco’s seismic safety laws. The large signs, written in multiple languages and displaying drawings of destroyed buildings, were posted on and around buildings to notify potential occupants that the building’s owners have not retrofitted the structure. While many agree that something must be done to convince building owners to upgrade unsafe structures, some feel that publicly “shaming” the buildings and its owners is not the smartest way to achieve the city’s goal. Berkeley tried something similar to what San Francisco is doing back in 2005. They placed warning signs on at-risk buildings and required owners to send letters to their tenants about the building being in danger if an earthquake hit.  Of the 239 buildings targeted by Berkeley, 100 owners voluntarily retrofitted their structures while the city had to pass a law to get the other 139 buildings retrofitted. San Francisco is going further than any other California city has in the past to notify the public by placing larger signs on more buildings.

The buildings marked with the signs are in violation of a city ordinance passed last year that requires all wood-framed apartment buildings and hotels to be evaluated. According to San Francisco’s director of earthquake safety, Patrick Otellini, “We saw that other programs had been wildly unsuccessful. We wanted a poster that drives change and lets people know what's going on." Public opinion seems to be split about the signs with many feeling they have the right to know about the structural health of the building they occupy and others feeling that the signs will cause some to panic that a building is in immediate danger of collapsing. Safety director Patrick Otellini defended the signs saying, "It's not intended to create panic, it's intended to notify tenants and also to let landlords know that there are real consequences to non-compliance.”

The city sent forms to building owners a year ago asking them to fill them out and return them to see if their building would need evaluation.  Over 90% of those forms had been returned by Monday of this week. The 10% of owners who have not returned the forms have 30 days to complete them or they could face fines as well as more signs from the city. Otellini feels the signs will help convince owners to retrofit their buildings and in doing so make San Francisco a much safer city in the next few years. 

Sources: LA TimesReuters

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